The Association of Thailand Underwater Sports ATUS, led by the association’s lawyer Pongsawan Sathatham, today March 27 handed a letter to a senior official of the Public Sector Anti-Corruption Commission PACC. Anthika Muangrod Thursday 27 March 2014, 04:23PM PACC Deputy Secretary-General Prayong Preeyachitt. In it, they asked the official, PACC Deputy Secretary-General Prayong Preeyachitt to urge the Minster of Justice to put an end to extortion by rogue police in Phuket. The PACC’s role is to target corrupt government personnel.This morning at the ATUS offices near the airport, Mr Prayong was briefed on the flow of complaints about rogue police extorting money by arresting dive company mangers and foreign staff on spurious work permit offences and then demanding money to let them go.Those who would not pay, he was told, were threatened with imprisonment and court appearances.The amount demanded could be as high as Baht 30,000, he was told, and many dive companies had also been ordered to pay monthly “fees” on top of the fine in order to keep the police off their backs. This fee for this protection service was typically Baht 3,000 to Baht 10,000 a month.The dive companies complained that not only was this causing fear in the dive industry but was also bad for business because their reputation was suffering when they were “arrested” in front of clients.After receiving the letter, Mr Prayong said, “As everyone knows, the tourism industry is the lifeblood of Phuket and the diving business is part of the tourism industry.“I’m here because I received reports about corrupt police who try to [extort] bribes from legal dive companies.“This is not only a crime but also damages the country’s reputation. It destroys Phuket tourism and hurts travellers’ feelings.“If the report I have received is true I will stop the illegal actions of government officers. We [the PACC] will sort out this problem and take steps as soon as possible.“Within two weeks, I will decide whether the [PACC] board should consider this issue. If the answer is yes, then I will probably eliminate the problem within two months.“Our board will investigate the officers involved. If they are found to have done wrong, they will be prosecuted. Absolutely.”He injected a cautionary note. “If not, then of course we will have be fair with them [the police], too.“Third, and most important, I really need support from you Phuket and dive companies. Please try to provide as much evidence as you can. It can be voice recordings or pictures. At the very least, this can protect you from becoming a victim of police officers who abuse their powers illegally.“If no one cares and just ignores this, there will be no good outcome for anybody. There will only be shame for us and our country. Prosecution in criminal law requires evidence. It really depends on this.“We promise to proceed with this as soon as possible and we will be fair to both sides.”Mr Prayong also stressed that the names of anyone who provides evidence will never be revealed.“It’s my duty to conceal [the names]. I will not speak the name of anybody involved nor even the name of any journalists who tell me stories. Please don’t be worried about this.”The penalties the rogue officers face if found to be extorting money could be severe. Mr Prayong said, “If an officer is found to be in the wrong, he will be prosecuted and if found guilty he will be sent to prison for not less than 10 years. He will be fired from government service.In a variation of the old saying, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime,” he added, “Obviously, it’s not worthwhile cheating. I always tell government officers that their duty is to serve the people. If they dare to do wrong things, they must also dare to take the punishment.”Apart from the extortion problem in the diving community, Mr Prayong also revealed that he is looking into the illegal issue by government officials of land deeds allowing people to encroach on national park land in Phuket. He was also looking at government officers demanding money from people wanting jobs in some state agencies.